Tuning in the faithful

In his 1998 World Communications Day statement, Pope John Paul II referred to social communications as the new Areopagus -- referring to St. Paul's evangelization to the Athenians -- and challenged the Church to use the media to spread the Gospel and "integrate the Gospel message into the 'new culture' created by modern communications."

A new study shows just how powerful modern communications can be, especially when you combine radio with Internet technology.

While the study by Arbitron and Edison Media Research does not focus on any particular programming format, it does show a big jump in the number of online listeners in general. That can only be good news for Catholic radio and its efforts to help spread the faith.

The report, "The Infinite Dial 2008: Radio's Digital Platform," shows continued growth in a number of digital audio entertainment, including online radio, podcasting and iPod/MP3 players.

The study shows that the weekly online radio audience has jumped to an estimated 33 million in the past year alone. On a weekly basis, online radio reaches more than one in seven, or about 15 percent, of 25- to 54-year-olds.

The Infinite Dial also shows that despite all the different media outlets available to folks, radio is still an important part of their lives. Of those surveyed, 21 percent said that radio ranks second only to cellular phones as the audio device that has the most impact.

"Traditional radio and Internet-only radio must realize that they are now part of an even broader world of online information and entertainment options and respond accordingly," said Pierre Bouvard, who is Arbitron sales and marketing president.

So, how does Catholic radio fit into all of this? Well, the number of terrestrial Catholic radio stations has grown from just a handful seven or eight years ago to more than 150 today. Most of the major Catholic radio apostolates or networks that develop and carry Catholic programming have active websites that provide a "listen live" Internet link.

These Catholic media outlets realized that other recent evangelization efforts in the Church, such as apologetic ministries, have taken off tremendously with the help of modern technology and knew the Internet would be a crucial tool.

Although the number of stations continues to grow, there are still many cities and towns without a Catholic station to call their own.

The study affirms what Catholic stations have been finding out -- alternatives to traditional radio are better meeting the demands of a very busy, mobile and motivated audience that's determined to get the programming they desire.

"Users continue to prove that they want to consume radio on their terms. On demand media and a wealth of portable devices are creating listening occasions that were previously either unavailable or underutilized, which is increasing the overall demand for audio content," said Tom Webster, vice president for Edison Media Research.

As Pope John Paul II reminded us in his 1998 World Commun-ications message, the spread of the Gospel through the media is one of the signs of hope in the world.

Given this new study, as well as the growth of Catholic radio in general, I'd say there is a lot to be hopeful about.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.